15 June 2010

Alastair Reynolds - Revelation Space

I recently wrote about a Nancy Kress novel, space opera kind of thing, that it was standard, predictable and boring. Revelation Space is the complete inverse of that description. OMFG. Everything happens. Nothing makes sense, except that it does. Reynolds manages to track 4 story lines over differing time frames and periods until they crash into each other in the one place and time, exploding into a whole new story line that had never even occurred to me.

After the jump, I start ranting about just how fricking brilliant and awesome and beyond epic and did I say awesome already? this book is. There are spoilers. It's also really long. Every time I thought I might be finished writing it, another thing occurred to me. And I only mention about 5% of who is, what is, where is and why is this.You have been duly warned. In Alastair Reynolds novels, there are no hyperspace jumps.

So just how massively huge and big and that are we talking here?

We're talking Billion Year Gone Alien Wars, weapons that can flatten planets just by warming up and humanity in the range from baseline to mostly robotic. There are a couple of space craft 4km long, hundreds of years old, travelling between planets to trade whatever they have found out in the wide galaxy, while the crew's of thousands have been ablated down to just a few Ultranaughts, travelling in cold sleep during the decades of acceleration to and braking from slightly sub-light speeds. And one spaceship in particular, the Nostalgia for Infinity.

There is also a recently extinct species that seems to have left behind artifacts made after they were wiped out. They seem to be leaving clues as to what happened to them, only the clues don't make sense and anyway, weren't they wiped out before they could have made this crap? And why do the newer statues have wings when the aliens don't have wings, even though they look kinda like humanoid chickens?

The hero's eventually come across a neutron star that is actually a black hole hidden under a fake neutron star shell. But the black hole is actually a quantum computer with an entry portal that is hidden on a planet orbiting the fake neutron star black hole computer. Except that the planet is actually hidden deep inside a security system shell made to look like a planet with nothing worth looking at on it. Oh, and the entry way is sitting next to a sentience trap left by some bad guys from back in the Billions of Years Ago war, because they got a look at sentient lifeforms and decided that it just didn't match the decor and therefore had to go, so they set traps all over the universe, so that if something sentient came along and tried to work out the puzzle, it would activate an alarm to attract the bad guys who can then come and wipe it out. No thinking allowed in our universe that you very much.

Meanwhile, a plague of  nano machines has eaten most of the technology on the planet Yellowstone. The capital Chasm City is a society whose elite citizens arrange to have themselves assassinated just for the thrill of trying to survive (but they don't always). It used to be home to a guy who is the clone of his dad, who is dead after uploading himself but now exists as a beta level simulation of himself (like an AI, except not actually intelligent, just really good at pretending to be...apparently there is a difference), only the clone doesn't know it. He's now an archaeologist on the other planet with the dead aliens, except he might be possessed by a thing called Sun Stealer, which might be the soul of a thing called a Shrouder. And the Sun Stealer keeps poking this guy's subconscious to go check out the neutron star thingy.

I mentioned before the Nostalgia for Infinity? The ships captain, who is melting into, or possibly melding into his spaceship, needs fixin', but the guy who might be able for fix him is missing, probably dead. And about 100 years space travel away. They guy they need is the dad of the guy who is the clone. So they figure if they find the kid, they might be able to get the Alpha simulation (actual AI version of the old guy). They used the kid once before by making him copy the AI into his brain. Rumour has it that the Captain was born in the 20th Century, but that is probably not true, according to other crew members. He's also swum with Pattern Jugglers. And been cyborged. And sort of uncyborged as well. Now he's leaking out of his cold sleep cabinet and melting into the floor.

Then there are these weird fricken black things that don't seem to exist, but if you get to close they drive you insane or just mince you. This is where the Sun Stealer thing came from, but nobody knows that yet. Hell, they don't even know it's there, except for his one guy, but he goes nutso psycho writing with his own blood on the walls crazy and ends up getting pulped before he can say anything about it anyway. He caught Sun Stealer out of the computer on the spaceship, because back when the kid and the AI thing (read the last paragraph so I don't have to type it again!!) were on the ship, a bit of the Sun Stealer escaped. Now it's all through the computer and weapons on Infinity.

One of the good guys is a cyborg ninja. He's the acting Captain of the Infinity, but he's reaaaalllly mean. He didn't used to be, until he (and the Captain) went swimming with Pattern Jugglers, who are kind of a seaweed computer that inhabit ocean planets and turn them into giant neural networks. And they can reprogram brains. And they seem to also be a database of everything they ever came into contact with, like aliens, humans, fish, etc, and can replace a person's brain patterns with someone elses. This is not a moral issue for the Pattern Jugglers, since they are seaweed. Hmmmm.

The hero's of this novel are girls. One is a Russian who doesn't like cyborg additives, but is rather fond of weapons. She's kinda co-in-charge of the Nostalgia for Infinity, but is secretly the person most dedicated to saving the captain from this weird disease. She has to find a new gunnery officer for the Infinity, because the last one was the nutso psycho guy. She doesn't know it, but Sun Stealer is hiding in her 'Really Fucking Massively Destructive, Not Sure What They Do, But You Better Be Really Nice To Me' Weapons Cache.

The other is a soldier who was accidentally transported 40 light years way from her husband when she was in a hospital ship, and is now a contract assassin. She get a job to kill the archaeologist, and the pay is HER HUSBAND BACK? This crazy lady actually kidnapped them both so that she could force our hero to do this job, and the husband is actually still in cold sleep, held captive by the crazy lady who arranged this whole thing. Bitch. She ends up taking the job as the gunnery officer, because the ship is going in the right direction. She doesn't tell the other girl why she really wants the job though.

And all of that crap hardly even scratches the surface of what's going on in this novel. This novel is not Epic. Epic is piss weak and boring compared to this. Al Reynolds has written the most epic Epic that ever was. The UberEpic. This novel, and the universe it is set in is just too fricken big to comprehend.

Reynolds has been one of my favorite writers for a long time, nut I never did get around to reading the Revelation Space novels until now. In a way, I am kicking myself for having missed out on it for so long, but at the same time I am glad that I waited so long. It means that I get the thrill of reading these novels for the first time after having read so much other fiction. I have read the bad, ordinary, good, great and brilliant works of other already. I think that everything I read after Revelation Space is going to be disappointing, but that's OK, because I already read most of the other stuff and got to enjoy it because I hadn't been ruined by Revelation Space.

Get this book, if you never read any other SF. It is the most exciting, riveting, brilliant Space Opera I have ever read.